October 3rd, 2016

Painting with Drones: From Grafitti to Gallery

by Rachel Borene, drone news reporter

Though drones may frequently be seen as a way to navigate through the world without too much human interference, some illustrators are adding a touch of humanity to drones by using them to create art. The growing trend seems to have started back in 2007 when an artist named Addie Wagenknecht created pieces for an exhibit called Shellshock. By laying a canvas down flat, Wagenknecht was able to pilot a drone as it sprayed powdered paint over the white surface. In 2007, drones were less stable in the air than they are today, and the inconsistencies in their flying added further depth to Wagenknect’s work— the drone itself seemed to be choosing how the art unfolded.

Shellshock, her first solo exhibit, took place at the bitforms gallery in New York City and featured drone paintings in two distinct styles. Some had a soft, ethereal feeling to them, which Wagenknecht says was inspired by Holi, the Indian festival of colors. Other pieces had jagged corners and solid black lines, which evoked feelings of warfare, barbed wire, weapons, and shrapnel.

Of course, not all art created by drones has been legal. In April 2015, graffiti artist KATSU used a Phantom drone to paint a red scribble across a New York City billboard. To dispense the paint, KATSU attached a modified fire extinguisher to the drone. The billboard, which is nearly six stories tall, had been nearly untouched by vandalism due to its huge size and busy location. After the graffiti stunt was pulled off successfully, the artist confessed that not only was he nervous about potentially getting caught but that the drone itself had been difficult to operate.

KATSU has also had an exhibit of his own at The Hole NYC, where he displayed drone graffiti on both regular canvas and pieces such as furniture.

A much simpler but more precise method of creating illustrations with drones has arisen with A Flying Pantograph. Hailing from the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT, creators Sang-won Leigh, Harshit Agrawal, and Pattie Maes came up with a drone that follows the motions of a pen. As the artist moves the pen across a surface, the drone draws a real image with a marker. Their goal was to create an experience that allowed artists to feel both connected and disconnected to the process. Drawing slowly with the pen would allow the drone to create more precise lines, but drawing too quickly would produce an unfinished yet unique image. The experiment produced great results, and artists from all ages, from children to adults, got to play with the drone at an MIT exhibit in October 2015.

If you’d like to paint with a drone- legally, of course!- you can find instructional videos here. Have fun, and go create a drone masterpiece!